I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself, and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featur'd like him, like him with friends possess'd,
Desiring this man's art and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate;
For thy sweet love remember'd such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.
-Sonnet XXIX, William Shakespeare
Of course, it’s Valentine’s Day fairly shortly, and so, like so many other writers at this time of the year, I was going to discuss some of my favourite literary couples --- a question that was posed to me on my Goodreads author page just last week, as a matter of fact. But then, as I was thinking about a quote I could open the post with, a related topic washed to the surface of my mind: favourite love poems. (I nearly always enjoy seeing what interesting non-sequiturs --- and sequiturs, too, I suppose, although that’s probably not a real Latin word --- my subconscious will come up with.) And I didn’t have to go very far before coming up with my favourite. You just read it at the top of this post.
Now, I realize Will isn’t probably at the forefront of everyone’s list of great love poems --- my high school students tend to roll their eyes whenever I talk about how unabashedly romantic Will can be --- but just bear with me for a moment. And look at the sonnet above. Number 29. I like it a lot, and have done for a long time. Why? Because he says some really beautiful things about the subject of the poem.
What’s he saying? Okay... let me do the translation that I would do when my students ask that question (their grasp of Shakespeare-ese is often a little... well, tenuous, shall we kindly say):
When I am having the worst day imaginable, when all the things that could possibly go wrong in a single day follow Murphy’s Law and do, in fact, go catastrophically, malevolently wrong;
When I look up towards Heaven and scream, “Why, God? Why is this happening to me?” and there seems no answer, just a vast cosmic indifference that is so frigid I can feel the ice in my soul, so there seems no possible way to make any sense of all the crap I’m going through;
And I look around, and observe so many people evidently negotiating the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune (!) so much better than I ever could --- or even not being troubled by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune at all, which is just beyond frickin’ unfair;
And I wish... oh, how I wish I could be someone else: why can’t I have that person’s good looks? Why can’t I have that person’s vast network of friends --- real friends, that is, not just nameless Facebook numbers with about as much realism and sincerity to them as a three dollar bill --- whose like and admiration is a constant sense of balm to a troubled soul? Why can’t I have skills and knowledge and abilities that are worthy and deserving of praise?
Above all... WHY?
But you know what? When I have worked myself into this towering tizzy... when I am having a gigantic hissy fit at The Unfairness Of It All... guess what? Something exceedingly strange occurs.
I think of you.
Let me reinforce that by saying it again: I think of you.
And then... perhaps gradually, but more likely fairly quickly... things don’t seem as bad. In fact, my mood swings around quite abruptly. Okay, hugely abruptly. Where I was ready, just a few short moments ago, to rage against a dark and malignant universe... now, I’m ready to sing hymns at Heaven’s gate.
Because, you see... when I think of the feelings you have for me... when I remember all you have and continue to give me... the support, the positivity, the loyalty, and above all, the unconditional love you display to an unworthy jerk like me...
Well, let’s just say that at that revelation... I wouldn’t trade places with anyone.
That’s what your love for me means to me.
Wow. What a powerful declaration to make. What a lovely declaration to make: your love doesn’t make all the blackness go away; but it makes it possible to pick myself up, dust myself off --- with your help --- and carry on. More than that: it makes it possible to go out into that oft cold and uncaring world where so much is broken... and move on.
That’s a kind of love worth having, and being blessed with.
Thanks, Will, you old softy. Millions of high school students never knew you had it in you.
(But I did.)